Many people in Horseshoe Bay are unaware of the existence of a community garden club in our midst. It is not exactly a secret. After all, this fall it will have been operating for 25 years and over that time many people have worked in the garden and enjoyed the harvests. Nonetheless, while it is by no means a clandestine society, they are not advertising for new members. The size of the membership is limited by practical concerns. At present there are 18 members and a waiting list of people who would like to join the group.
The garden is located near the northern end of Fault Line Drive, just before the street wends its way left to Matern Court and Wenmohs Place. It lies adjacent to the property where, until just a few weeks ago, the old Wenmohs ranch house stood.
In 1985, George Edgerton and Bob Kidder went to Wayne Hurd and asked him if they could use the old Wenmohs ranch house garden to start a garden club. Wayne graciously consented and to this day has never charged the group one penny for the use of the land. After a fence was erected to protect the area from deer and rabbits and the necessary tools were purchased, they planted their first garden that fall.
They did not have a formal organization—Tom Jones, one of the original 25 members, said they always had “Indians,” never a chief—but it was necessary to have someone who monitored the assessed funds, paid the bills, ordered the seeds and plants and laid out the garden. That was a job that Jones held for 22 years until he finally retired from active participation in the garden. Currently, Norm Long is taking care of business on the financial side and Jerry Pawelek orders the seeds and plants.
The members of the group pay an assessment each year to keep the garden in operation, an investment which is paid back many times over in the harvests that they divide up throughout the year. Members are assigned to teams, each of which is responsible for planting, weeding, fertilizing and generally tending a certain crop. Depending on the time of the year, an individual may spend from five to ten hours a week at the garden.
The size of the plot is about an acre. On the crop assignment list for this year, there are some 25 crops, a figure that is somewhat misleading. The squash category, for instance, includes a variety of squashes from acorn to zucchini. The onions include Texas 1015’s as well as Contessa onions and red onions—some 3000 onions in all. When they harvested a few weeks ago, each member took home about 50 pounds of onions. This week is the scheduled “potato day” when everyone will be at the garden to harvest about 3000 potatoes. Arden Butler, the “potato man,” told me there are 12 100-foot potato rows. The potatoes will be equally divided among the members.
Except for the crops that have to be picked in one fell swoop, so to speak, they use an honor system intended to allow all the members to pick enough of a certain crop for their own personal use. To let everyone know when to pick, they use a simple flag system to indicate what can be picked (green) and what cannot (red). What the members do not use is donated in the community: The Helping Center, The Crisis Center, churches, police, EMS and the firefighters have all been recipients.
Arden Butler was nice enough to show me around the garden a couple of weeks ago. I have lived in Horseshoe Bay almost as long as the garden has been in existence and this was my first time to see it up close. He explained some of the challenges involved—and we’re not just talking about the armadillos and raccoons or the weather.
The granite soil has been gardened for over a hundred years. Their asparagus bed, for example, is at least 25 years old and they worked hard to get a great crop this year. At one end of the plot there are several peach trees, some of which are estimated to be 80 to 90 years old. The trees were more decorative than productive, but one of the club’s newer members had the expertise to prune the trees correctly. With help from good growing weather this year, they are expecting a bumper crop of peaches in about a month.
After a cold spring, the tomatoes were planted a little later this year than usual, but should be ripening soon. Norm Long is the “tomato man” and laughed as he told me that the pressure of running his own business was nothing compared to being the tomato guy in the garden club. “You gotta bring it home!” he said.
Occasionally, they agree to try something new. This is a first year for blackberries, but it seems that armadillos find them a tasty treat. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall, as Tom Jones told me, it is amazing what comes out of the garden.
What do you do with all of that fresh produce? I chatted with some of the wives—Diane Jones, Dorothy Long, Alice Pawelek and Shirlee Mitchell—and got a few ideas to pass on. Mostly, however, they said that they keep it simple and prepare the vegetables in ways that do not require recipes or mask the fresh flavor. For instance, Dorothy said she likes to microwave a lot of the produce. Microwaving helps to preserve the flavors and the colors, especially if you cook the vegetables just until they are crisp tender. A couple of hints to ensure success: cut vegetable into pieces that are all the same size so they will cook evenly, add a tablespoon or two of water, cover them but allow steam to vent. Do not salt the vegetable until after it is cooked. If you are microwaving something whole, such as a potato, be sure to pierce the skin several times so it does not explode!
Stir-frying is another easy option for some vegetables, and roasting works well too. Shirley Mitchell suggested an easy and different way to prepare either acorn squash or butternut squash:
For the butternut squash, peel and then cut the squash into very thin slices; spray with olive oil and sprinkle with favorite seasoning mixture. Place the slices on parchment paper and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes.
For the acorn squash, you will need a sturdy knife to cut through the squash, skin and all. After spraying the squash with olive oil, season with a savory mixture or vary by seasoning with cinnamon and sugar. Bake as above.
Here’s another roasted vegetable recipe from Shirlee I am looking forward to trying:
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OVEN-ROASTED RED POTATOES & ASPARAGUS
1 ½ pounds red potatoes, cut in chunks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons dried rosemary
4 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt
1 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large dish, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the herbs, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Mix the asparagus with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt; mix in with the potatoes, cover and bake for 15 more minutes. Uncover and continue baking for about 5 to 10 more minutes until the edges of the potatoes get crisp. Season with pepper before serving.
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Alice Pawelek provided the recipe for a very quick and easy appetizer of roasted okra:
okra (best if about same size)
seasoning of choice
Parmesan cheese, grated
Cut okra in half lengthwise. Place on roasting pan or cookie sheet with the seed side up. Brush with olive oil and season with your favorite blend or just salt and pepper. Sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese. Place in 350 degree oven on the roast setting. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the okra browns and becomes crisp. Serve on a platter with ranch dressing for a dip.
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With the potato harvest this week, the community garden club families should have a plentiful supply. Dorothy Long suggested the following idea that is a nice variation on basic mashed potatoes: Cook equal parts of potatoes and turnips together and prepare as you would normally prepare mashed potatoes. She and Norm agreed that it makes a tasty combination. (Try the same thing with a combination of potatoes and carrots—also good.)
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Finally, it won’t be long until the tomatoes are ready. It is hard to beat home-grown tomatoes in almost any application, but here’s a summertime recipe from a former Horseshoe Bay resident, Rae Nicholson, whose husband was an avid gardener. This recipe is about as simple as it gets, but good tomatoes make all the difference.
1/4 cup salad oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Mix well, toss with tomatoes (cut into large chunks), and marinate for a few hours before serving.